Two subjects have been the topics of heated debate this summer among Kings fans:
1) Ilya Kovalchuk
2) Now that Rob Blake has retired should the Kings retire his #4?
I’m not going to get near the Kovalchuk mess. I think enough has been said ad nausem on the topic and it’s time for Kings fans to move on - unless he somehow ends up in LA after all. I’d like instead to address the question of whether the Kings should retire Rob Blake’s jersey?
For those who aren’t familiar with the nuts and bolts of the story, many Kings fans hold a grudge against Rob Blake because they feel he put money ahead of all else and deserted the Kings for greener pastures in Colorado, and then later in San Jose, when he had the chance. My personal opinion is that Blake was first and foremost a professional athlete and you gotta make your money when you can. It’s a limited window of opportunity for a player to get paid and I don’t begrudge anyone who makes that a priority. Could Blake have handled the situation better? Probably. Only he can really answer that.
So if one can separate the emotional side of the question and just examine Blake’s Kings career objectively, what do they come up with?
First let’s look at Blake’s stats and achievements as they compare to other Kings. Hardly anyone debates whether Blake is a Hall of Fame caliber player, but how does his Kings legacy rate?
Blake is #1 among all Kings defensemen in games played (805), goals (161), assists (333), and points (494). Blake had 25 more games played in a Kings sweater then Mattias Norstrom, 62 more goals and 179 more points then Steve Duchesne, and 83 more assists then Mark Hardy. Each player mentioned is #2 among Kings defensemen in those categories behind Blake. Add to that the fact that Blake’s 494 points is #7 all time among all Kings skaters, forwards included. He had more points in a Kings uniform then Jarri Kurri and Bryan Smolinksi combined. Even Jim Fox and Charlie Simmer, both of whom are top 10 in Kings goal scoring all time, had less points for the Kings then Rob Blake. And to top it off Blake is still the only Kings player to ever win a Norris trophy, although most fans hope that Drew Doughty or Jack Johnson may join Blake with that distinction in the near future.
But I know what “Blake haters” are saying: “Stats are all well and good, but what did the guy ever do for the Kings?” While you could certainly debate that question on a lot of fronts, but one thing he did stands out in my mind. In 2006 Blake came back to the Kings and put the captain’s C on his chest in a year when everyone knew the Kings would be one of the worst teams in the NHL and they were. They finished the 2006-2007 season with just 68 points, 28th in the NHL. Blake could have easily said “I’m getting near the end of my career and I want another opportunity to win a Stanley Cup”, or at least “I want to play for a team that has a shot at making the playoffs”, and it would have made perfect sense. But instead he chose to come help a young team grow and take steps forward.
I don’t know Rob Blake personally and I’ve never spoken to him. I can’t speak to his motivations or desires. The only opinion I can give comes from watching him play and from that perspective it’s clear to me that Rob Blake was one of the best players in Kings history. Should the Kings retire his jersey? Absolutely.